Zoe Rahman lights up the Lighthouse

Friday, 6 March, 2020 saw Zoe Rahman’s Quartet play in the Shepperton Studio at The Lighthouse, Poole in Dorset.

The Quartet lined up as follows:

Zoe Rahman was at the piano

Idris Rahman played reeds

Alec Dankworth was on double bass

and behind the drum-kit was Gene Calderazzo

Described in The Observer as “a remarkable pianist by any standard”, Zoe Rahman has firmly established herself as one of the brightest stars on the contemporary jazz scene. A vibrant and highly individual pianist/composer, her style is deeply rooted in jazz yet it reflects her classical background, British/Bengali heritage and her very broad musical taste. Known for her powerful technique, wide-ranging imagination and exuberant performance,


Everything quoted above was confirmed by the performance on the evening, which opened with the tune Down to Earth, taken from the 2011 album Kindred Spirits. This piece was played by the trio of Zoe, Alec and Gene and showed from the beginning how tight a unit they are. A terrific tune to open the show, confirmed by the rapturous applause from the packed audience in this intimate studio space.

Idris Rahman joined the trio on the next tune, which reflected the Rahman’s cultural heritage. Zoe started the piece by plucking the strings of the piano before moving on to the keys with Idris coming in on clarinet, the music playing like a lullaby with warm woody tones before filling to a fuller sound with the addition of bass and drums. The music reflected sounds the Western ear would normally associate with the Indian subcontinent, for Zoe and Idris it resonated with the Bengali culture of their father. Gene Calderazzo then played a short drum solo that morphed in to music with an Irish tone (Zoe and Idris’ maternal grandmother was Irish). This was a wonderful tune full of constantly shifting musical patterns played by a group that enjoyed playing as much as the audience was listening.

I won’t describe each tune in detail as it would make for a very long review. Not all the tunes played this evening had a title, not all were introduced, just played. The third tune had a working title, named by one of Zoe’s children. The playing was light and airy and could easily be imagined as an accompanying piece to an animated film for children. Next was something more lyrical, more grown up. This was followed by an, as yet, untitled piece written by Zoe Rahman and featuring Idris on tenor sax. And before we knew where we were the final tune of the first set was introduced as Cherry, an uplifting Gospel style composition that raised the spirits and sent the audience to the bar with a collective smile on their faces.

In some ways this event could be described as three bands for the price of one. The second set opened with a solo performance from Zoe of These Foolish Things. Then came a latin style number featuring the piano led trio before moving onto Zoe’s Red Squirrel – which I had only heard before as a solo piece on the album Dreamland. Then came the Quartet with a tribute to McCoy Tyner, who we learned from Zoe had died earlier in the day. The fifth number of the second set was a tune written by a composer who was much admired by Idris and Zoe’s father. Idris played clarinet in a slow, haunting tempo that was simply beautiful to hear.

Conversation with Nellie, another tune from the Kindred Spirits album, was composed after Zoe had had a conversation with her grandmother Nellie. The number was light and airy: full of life and spirit. Using the music as a guide I would suggest that this conversation would have been a joy to overhear. The final tune of the evening was There are People Here, which conjured up images of a bustling market place full of interesting characters all going about their daily lives. In fact this proved not to be the final tune of the evening as there was a very much deserved call for an encore.

In many ways this was the perfect evening of jazz: the venue is small, intimate with great acoustics. The band was engaging, interacting with the audience and playing with an exuberance that only comes with confidence in their craft. Particularly nice for me was that the audience did not applaud each solo – as is the accepted custom at gigs – but waited until the end of the tune to show their appreciation, which meant that the focus was entirely on all of the notes being played – just as it should be in my opinion.

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